•Insist third-tier govt must be free for Nigeria to move forward
By Bimbola Oyesola
Local government workers recently stormed Lagos as part of their ongoing nationwide protest for the autonomy of the local governments in the country.
Participants at the Lagos event came from states in the South-West zone comprising Ekiti, Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Osun and the host Lagos. The Lagos leg of the march was the third in less than two weeks organised by the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), as part of its advocacy campaign.
The union started its campaign in Lafia, Nasarawa State and last week. Then the Local Government Autonomy Campaign Train moved to Calabar, Cross River State.
As early as 6 am, the workers had started converging on Odi Olowo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), in the Ilupeju, Lagos. About three hours later, they hit the roads.
The workers in their numbers passed through Anthony Village through Maryland, Ikeja, Awolowo Way, Allen Round About before reaching Alausa, Ikeja.
In company of their leaders, they sang various solidarity songs, intermittently stopping to distribute leaflets to the passersby to get them acquainted with the reasons for their nationwide rally.
Security personnel: the Nigeria Police, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA), were part of the rally. They rallied to ensure free flow of traffic. But in spite of their involvement, motorists suffered traffic logjam for several hours while the rally lasted.
Addressing the workers, the National President of NULGE, Ibrahim Khaleel, said that the rally was important for the autonomy and freedom of the nation’s local government areas.
“Comrades, this is the third gathering in our national advocacy campaign to extract from our ruling political elite, constitutional autonomy and political freedom for the third tier of government in Nigeria,” he said.
He noted that the union decided to move the campaign to Lagos because of the importance of the state as a commercial nerve centre of the country.
According to him, the union’s leadership was driving the nationwide campaign based on the fact that over the years in the current democratic dispensation, the ruling elite at the various levels of governance had bastardised the noble developmental ideas behind making the local government system the third tier of governance in the country.
“So far in this journey, we are encouraged by the massive support from you and the Nigerian masses who actively marched with us in our last two national rallies in Lafia and Calabar.
“Today, the crowd of supporters for local government autonomy continues to grow. We strongly believe that as this campaign moves from here to Kano and then to Enugu, Jalingo in the North-East and finally to Abuja on April 27, 2017, our support will get ticker and ticker,” he said.
Khaleel noted that the broad incentive for the workers campaign for autonomy revolved around issues of development and their absence at the local level. He added that the campaign which would hold in cities across the six geo-political zones of the country and Abuja, apart from other planned engagements with other stakeholders, would seek to highlight: “political, financial and administrative autonomy of LGAs: abolition of state/LGA joint account: payment of 10 per cent internally generated revenue by state governments to LGAs: stopping the deduction from LGAs’ Federal revenue allocation by state governments.” Others according to him included: “proposal for payment of teachers’ salaries to be on first line charge of FAAC: abolition of SIEC and reverting the conduct of local government elections to INEC: implement the ruling of Supreme Court judgment against appointment of caretaker committees for LGs and reckless dissolution of elected local government councils.”
The NULGE President said the daily experience of workers at the local government level showed that the most prevalent situation in local government administration was the perpetual encroachment into the financial and administrative powers of local councils by the state governments.
“This manifests in a number of ways such as the confiscation of federal allocated revenues to local governments by states, compelling them to shoulder some expenditure responsibilities or mandatory deductions for so-called joint projects by states, lack of capacity to initiate development projects, among other challenges.
“As the tier of government which connects majority of the people to the other tiers of government, it is important that local governments are empowered with the autonomy to deliver on their mandate of taking development to the grass roots.”
In his contribution, the President of the United Labour Congress (ULC), Joe Ajaero, charged the law makers to lead the constitutional battle to democratically recognise the local government as a tier of government.
“Apart from being a recipe for rural underdevelopment, local government autonomy will greatly address the challenges posed by concerns of minority groups who felt excluded from the mainstream political economy while also serving as training and recruitment grounds for higher political office,” he said.
Ajaero noted that local government autonomy would ultimately address the security challenges, deteriorating standard of education, poor primary health care and other infrastructure challenges, bearing in mind the high number of population in local governments.
He maintained that without the autonomy of the local government, Nigeria as a country could not really say she was practising democracy, insisting that legislative houses must abolish the tools which presently allowed states to take over the account of the local government.
At the state House of Assembly in Alausa, the workers were received by the Lagos State Commissioner for Local Government and Community Affairs, Mr Muslim Folami and the Special Adviser to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode on Local Government Affairs, Mr Kehinde Bamigbetan.
The commissioner, who said that the governor was attending to some very important state duties, commended the workers for their peaceful conduct and promised that he would deliver their request to the governor.
He, however, explained that the state governor had never deducted any amount from the local government allocation coming from the federation account, stating that Governor Ambode was a respecter of the law.
The governor’s aide, who had been a local government chairman before, revealed that the policy direction of Governor Ambode had been grassroots-oriented.
“We now have a unified civil service, which means workers from the local government can move to the state and vice versa; as far as Lagos State is concerned, we are one and the same; there is no dichotomy,” he stated.